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Kimberly M. Brown for Equality Now – WNN SOAPBOX

A 'Justice for Liz' rally in Kenya, July 2013

In July 2013 ‘Justice for Liz’ rally in Busia, Kenya brings advocates out into the public who want to speak loudly to stop the abuse and rape of children in the region. Image: Equality Now

(WNN/EN) Busia, KENYA, EASTERN AFRICA: In late June 2013, the world was outraged by the story of Liz who was brutally gang-raped in western Kenya while walking home from a funeral, left to die in a pit latrine, and suffered an obstetric fistula as a result of the attack.

Last October, the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) and AVAAZ.org obtained more than 1.7 million signatures globally demanding that Kenya’s Inspector General of Police, David Kimaiyo, arrest and prosecute the suspects who raped Liz. Such heavy pressure seems to be the only reason that any action has been taken so far.

Equality Now joined in the global campaign dubbed ‘Justice for Liz’, inviting the world to exert pressure for the arrest and prosecution of the six suspects. Yet so far, only one suspect has been arrested, while the remaining five are at large, despite reports from the community that their whereabouts are known. Initially, three had been apprehended, but the police officer on duty recorded the attack as an “assault” after failing to carry out a proper investigation, and ordered them to cut grass outside the police station before they were released from custody.

Liz’s case drew national and international attention to Busia County and the failures of the local authorities to adequately address sexual violence. The evidence from Busia is very compelling, and highlights the prevalence of sexual violence plaguing women and girls, and the tremendous obstacles encountered at every stage of the criminal justice process. One police officer from Busia, when asked about the high number of rapes from the region speculated that it was because girls in Busia, “they roam around, they go to discos.” And as for the police’s role, he remarked “sometimes you cannot investigate all the cases.

There are dozens if not hundreds of cases that underscore just how dire the situation has become in Busia, including 12-year-old A. who was raped, impregnated twice, and infected with HIV by a prominent teacher who had employed her as domestic help. A. comes from a very poor family and is mentally disabled, but was able to communicate clearly what had happened to her. There are reports that officials from the local children’s office in Busia protected the perpetrator, who is still teaching and is rumored to be transferred soon to another school.

14-year-old F. was raped by a senior ranking police corporal in Butula sub-county. When the case was reported by a fellow female police officer, the officer’s job, security and life were threatened. A day after a doctor examined F., thanks to the help of local organizations, officers from the local Criminal Investigation Department took F., alone in the same vehicle with her rapist for new medical investigations which contradicted the original medical report. Young F. still awaits justice.

2-year-old M. was gang raped by members of the community in the company of other children.  To date, no legal action has been taken and reports indicate that one of the perpetrators has since defiled other children in the community.

There are countless other girls and women who have reported crimes of sexual violence in Busia, but no legal action has been taken by the police or authorities in Busia to ensure their access to justice.

Today, Liz’s trial finally begins and Equality Now, COVAW, AVAAZ.org, REEP and the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) coalition demand justice for victims of sexual violence and raise awareness on the systemic failures to address the problem in BusiaCounty. We need your help to amplify our call for justice and for authorities to take sexual violence more seriously in Kenya.

Sexual violence is a global scourge that we can all lend a hand in to effect positive change.

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Kimberly M. Brown is a consultant with Equality Now’s Nairobi Office.

Equality Now acts as secretariat of the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) coalition, an initiative of 44 organizations working across 24 African countries to promote and protect women’s rights on the continent.  Equality Now has been working to end violence and discrimination against women in girls for over 20 years.

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